Part 7: Tooz-days with the Raiders
By Pat Toomay
Special to Page 2

Editor's Note: In last week's episode, Pat Toomay describes his first season with the Raiders, 1977, which was unexpectedly his personal best. He led the AFC in sacks and helped propel Oakland to an 11-3 regular-season record.

John Matuszak
John Matuszak, right, had a troubled past, but what difference would another nut make on the Raiders.
Nineteen seventy-seven was a banner year for me -- the proverbial "career" year, as sportswriters like to describe it. Although I didn't find out until much later, I ended up leading the AFC in sacks. Week after week, it seemed, I could do no wrong. Floating in the mist of that euphoria, it was easy to ignore signs that suggested I might be inhabiting something other than a pro football paradise. Things were going too well to pay attention to such trivialities. Yet the signs were there. Moreover, they were portentous. I suppose it was inevitable that they would constellate around the figure of John Matuszak.

When I joined the club after being traded from Tampa, my impression of Tooz was that, under the beneficent guidance of John Madden and Al Davis, he had miraculously shed his bad boy image and settled down to become a productive member of a team. That was what press reports seemed to indicate. That was the scuttlebutt circulating throughout the league. However, as I got to know my teammates and began to hear their stories, it quickly became clear that the reality of the situation was far more complicated than the hype.

As it happened, it was Al Davis who suggested the Raiders pick up Matuszak after he was cut by the Redskins at the end of the 1976 preseason. Asked why he'd let Matuszak go, Redskins coach George Allen had famously replied, "Vodka and Valium, the Breakfast of Champions." Still, the Raiders took a chance. Having lost three defensive linemen to season-ending injuries, they were in dire need of a big body to play the 3-4 front, which they'd been forced to adopt because of lack of personnel. No better candidate was available than Tooz.

"When he arrived, I wasn't about to talk to him about his past," Madden reflected later. "In his travels, every coach and every amateur psychologist had lectured him. He was more experienced at hearing that speech than I was at giving it. He had a reputation as a disruptive influence, but I hadn't phoned George Allen or the coaches in Kansas City and Houston for his report card. Whatever he did that they got rid of him for, if he did it with us, he was gone, too. If you know too much about a guy, you tend to prejudge him, to hold his past against him. I wasn't a psychiatrist or psychologist. I was a football coach. If you play football for me, good. If you screw up, goodbye."

This was a public declaration, so, to a certain extent, it was protective. The truth was, Tooz pushed the envelope from the beginning, and more than a few players wondered how long Madden would have put up with it had the club's power equation been different.

The club's power equation. For years, Raiders critics had hammered at it. In Oakland, they held, Al Davis was the real force, while everyone else was a puppet. Even -- and especially -- Madden. After all, Madden was only 31 when he was hired as linebacker coach; he was only 33 when he took over the team. So he was just a kid. Moreover, he was a big, unsophisticated lug of a kid, who had no pedigree and no real head coaching experience. Thus, he was a perfect candidate for the manipulative Davis. He was mere putty in Davis' hands. What else could he have been?

John Madden
John Madden's philosophy was simple: If you play football for me, good. If you screw up, goodbye."
Critics would admit that Madden knew football, that he was no dummy by any stretch. But they maintained that if Madden wanted the Raiders head coaching job, he had to play ball with Davis. It was as simple as that. Madden had to implement Davis' philosophy at every turn. Was it Madden who loved wild-card players? No, it was Davis who loved 'em, because Davis himself was a wild card. So Madden had no choice but to be the good father to those nutcases. He was the way he was because he had to be. What coach in his right mind would put up with a player such as John Matuszak?

However wrong the critics would ultimately turn out to be, this question did rear its head -- and it did so on Tooz's very first day of practice. As a general rule, Madden wanted new players to fit in when they arrived, to join the circle with the other players rather than try to be a leader. Tooz, however, had other ideas. On that first day, ever the showman, Tooz dressed with the other players but delayed joining them on the field. Then he sprinted out of the locker room, screaming, "AAARRRGGGHHH!" at the top of his lungs. Even Davis got nervous. Standing next to Ted Hendricks, sort of thinking out loud, he mumbled, "Jeez, I wonder if John's worth the gamble?" Hendricks gave him a you've-got-be-kidding look. "Al, what difference will one more make?"

For the most part, Tooz behaved himself that first season. Reportedly, Madden once had to order off the team plane two bimbos who were brought on by a tipsy Tooz, and there was an incident in which Tooz got under Madden's skin during practice and had to be reminded who was running things. But these were mild irritations relative to what the season held for the Raiders. As the club drove to its first Super Bowl title, Tooz played big and he played hurt. Filling a key position, he was vital to the team's success. In a game where loyalty is prized, Tooz created capital for himself. It wasn't long, however, before he started to spend it.

"Keeper of the Tooz" was what the job ultimately came to be known as, and I suppose I was an early candidate for the position (if an unsuspecting one), because Tooz and I were paired up as road roommates after Duane Benson, my training camp roommate, was waived at the end of the '77 preseason. I've described my first night with Tooz in Part IV of this series, and that's pretty much how it went until the fourth regular season game, when we traveled to Cleveland to play the Browns.

Because Cleveland was a long flight for us, we left for the game on Friday, instead of our usual Saturday departure, to allow time to acclimate and to recover from jet lag. Arriving at the hotel early Friday evening, I grabbed a bite from the team buffet before heading up to the room to relax. My roommate, I noticed, had met some friends in the lobby. After making only a token appearance at the buffet, Tooz headed out with them.

  As it happened, it was Al Davis who suggested the Raiders pick up Matuszak after he was cut by the Redskins at the end of the 1976 preseason. Asked why he'd let Matuszak go, Redskins coach George Allen had famously replied, "Vodka and Valium, the Breakfast of Champions." 

Up in the room, I read, watched TV, until around midnight, when I started to drift off. Then a key sounded in the lock, the door flew open, and in staggered Tooz. He was ripped. Hardly able to stand, he was slurring his words. "Quaaludes" was the word that popped into my mind. Weaving as he stood there, Tooz looked around, as if to get his bearings. He had the appearance of a man who'd been hit on the head with a hammer. To his right was our open closet in which hung a single shirt. The shirt belonged to me. A Pendleton flannel, it was one of the few nice shirts I owned and the only one I'd packed for the trip.

"Ohhhh! What a puuurrrty shirt!" Tooz exclaimed. At which point he took off all his clothes, yanked my shirt off its hanger and tried to pull it over his head. Of course Tooz was 6-foot-8 and weighed more than 300 pounds, while I was 6-5 and weighed a little under 250, so my shirt wasn't going to fit him -- and it didn't. As Tooz struggled to squeeze his massive biceps through the shirt's skinny sleeves, both armpits ripped out, leaving the shirt in tatters. I groaned, as Tooz, still naked except for my shirt, wandered out into the hallway and began banging on doors.

In the room, I lay there, wondering what I should do. Before I could make a decision, however, Tooz was back, only now he seemed more disoriented than ever. Staggering over to the window, he tripped, losing his balance. For an instant, it appeared he might slam his head against the wall, but he recovered, grabbing the curtains for support. But then the curtains ripped away and down went Tooz, crashing through the table to land with a thud on the floor. I helped him up, pushed him toward his bed. Collapsing on the mattress, Tooz reached for the telephone. "Gotta .. calll ...Tammmmmpaaa ..." he mumbled. Then he murmured the name of his ex-wife.

Taking advantage of his confusion over how to dial long distance, I hurried over to the door and peeked out. I knew I needed help and, as it happened, Dick Romansky, our equipment manager, was walking by. "Romo," I said. "Where's George? I need a hand with Tooz." George was George Anderson, our veteran trainer. I was sure George would know what to do.

"I'll go get him," Romo said. "He's down in the bar."

Back in the room, as I was explaining to Tooz the nuances of dialing long distance, someone banged on the door. "Dammit, open up!" said the agitated voice. I opened the door and in fell George, tumbling to the floor. As it turned out, George had been sitting in the bar for hours. As Snake would put it, he'd been "overserved."

"Toomay, what in the hell are you trying to do to me!" George yelped, as he scrambled to his feet. "Jesus Christ!"

By now it was almost 1 a.m. As George moved to Tooz, another knock sounded at the door. I opened it and there stood Doc Fink, grinning as he held up his little black bag. Thank God, I thought. Finally, some real help. But Doc Fink was a little giddy himself, since he'd also been down in the bar, drinking with George.

"Tooz, you big dummy, what are you doing?"

John Matuszak
Matuszak made road trips unforgettable.
"Valiuuum," Tooz groaned.

Abruptly, Doc Fink turned to me. He was all business. "We won't be giving Tooz any Valium," he said. "We may give him something he might think is Valium. But we won't be giving him any real Valium. I'm sure you've heard of the placebo effect. That's what'll calm him down."

I nodded. George suggested I sleep next door in his room. So I did.

The next morning, when I came out for breakfast, George was curled up in the fetal position on the floor in front of Tooz's door, sound asleep. No doubt he'd spent the night there, to make sure Tooz stayed in. I stood there staring at him. This was nuts, I knew, but it was also oddly touching. Sad, too, in a way. But touching all at the same time. And nuts. Mostly, it was nuts. I thought: Thank God we don't have to play today.

Downstairs, as I sat eating breakfast, Madden pulled up a chair. He had a pained expression on his face, as if he'd swallowed something sour. Leaning forward, elbows on knees, he said, in a low voice, "I'm sorry about what happened last night. It won't happen again. From now on, you'll have your own room."

"Thanks," I said.

Of course, the following day, as we smoked the Browns 26-10, Tooz played well. In pro football, performance is always a great mitigator. However, that Friday night in Cleveland would not be forgotten.

Coming attractions: In Part 8 of his series, Toomay looks at everything that contributed to the Raiders' disastrous performance in the AFC championship game against the Broncos ... and how what happened after that game told him that the Raiders' long and unconventionally successful run was about to become history.

Former NFL defensive end Pat Toomay played in the league for 10 years (1970-79) with the Cowboys, Bills, Bucs and Raiders. He is the author of two books, The Crunch and the novel On Any Given Sunday. You can e-mail him at



Pat Toomay Archive

Toomay: Al Davis, the awkward genius

Toomay: A rollercoaster of an NFL week

Toomay: A 'little death,' a lotta Tooz

Toomay: Kindness behind a silver and black façade

Toomay: The wild and the innocent

Toomay: From the ridiculous to the sublime

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